Published on September 7, 2011 by Amy
Walking through the encampment, one can’t help but noticed that the teepees appear to go on endlessly. The white triangular tops are everywhere, stretching into the distance, with freshly cut lodge poles pointing to a cloudless sky. Teepees are everywhere.
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Few Native American festivals or powwows have the reputation, or inspire the awe for which the Crow Fair is known. “We’ve never turned away anybody from our powwows, that’s why it’s called the teepee capital of the world,” says James Medicine Horse. “We’re the only tribe that sets up as many teepees as we can. I counted over 1,500 the first day, and they’re still setting them up.”
The six day Crow Fair is the largest encampment in the northwestern United States. The annual event has been taking place for seventy-eight years and has become one of the best known Native American events held anywhere in North America. Although the fair includes other events, such as horse racing and a rodeo, it is the powwow which is synonymous with the Crow Fair reputation, and has become one of a handful on the circuit that anyone who is serious about powwow must participate in. One participant, new to he Crow Fair said, “When we got here yesterday, I couldn’t believe it! I’ve never seen so many teepees, so many cars.”
Each family has their own area, and as the families grow, so do the camps, and more people come each year, so that this year a new area has been added to the enormous gathering site.
The Crow Fair was planned initially as a “typical country fair,” so popular in the American Midwest during the early 20th century. It did not come into prominence overnight. In an effort to help encourage participation, Indian agent S.C. Reynolds set up a committee of chiefs and elders to set up a schedule of events and entertainment popular with the Crow people.
As the Crows made the most of the opportunity to practice their culture, the fair continued to grow. Each year there were more teepees to be set up. They began to have sham battles and reenactments from the days of intertribal warfare. There was storytelling of war deeds by veterans, victory dances and gifts given. Native American traditions that were outlawed by the federal government were revived.
The fair was cancelled during World War One, the American drought, the depression of the 1930’s and World War Two.
Today, the Crow Fair, which is supported by all six districts of the Crow Reservation, begins with parades in the morning, and rodeo, horse racing and powwows in the afternoon and evening.